Penguins at Canadiens Picks and NHL Betting Odds
by Alan Matthews - 3/2/2013
When I last previewed a Pittsburgh Penguins game, things were going swimmingly for Sidney Crosby and Co. The Pens were atop the Eastern Conference, right where they expected to be, and looked like the club that would face the Chicago Blackhawks in the Stanley Cup Finals. Maybe the Pens still will be that team.
However, no team has had worse luck with concussions to its stars. We all know Crosby’s troubles with that suddenly prevalent injury in the NHL. A little more than two years removed from his serious concussion, Crosby is healthy and back playing at an MVP level. Speaking of MVP, last year’s Hart Trophy winner was Pittsburgh’s Evgeni Malkin as he carried the team with Crosby missing another big chunk of the Pens’ games. Malkin was off to another terrific start this season with four points and 17 assists, but on Feb. 22 against Florida the Russian was nudged a bit by the Panthers’ Erik Gudbranson (he wasn’t suspended). Malkin's back hit the boards at full speed, and his head snapped back upon impact. Diagnosis: concussion, with Malkin even reportedly having short-term memory loss. That doesn’t sound good.
The good news is that Malkin skated by himself in Pittsburgh on Wednesday, the first time he took the ice since the injury, and said he didn’t have any symptoms. But Malkin won’t be taking the ice for a game any time in the immediate future. He didn’t travel with the team on its current road trip and must receive clearance from a doctor or medical personnel with concussion training before returning to contact. He then must pass a cognitive baseline test before receiving clearance to resume playing. It’s essentially the same thing the NFL mandates.
Saturday is the first of three meetings this season between the teams, and it will be an event in Montreal as it’s Canadian golden boy Crosby’s only visit there.
Penguins at Canadiens Betting Story Lines
The Pens enter on their third two-game losing streak of the season and look to avoid their first three-game skid. Defense has been the problem of late, and you can’t blame the goalies entirely. Pittsburgh allowed the Hurricanes 29 shots on goal in Thursday’s 4-1 loss in Raleigh. The Pens fell one short of allowing at least 30 shots for a fifth time in six games. Pittsburgh now has allowed four or more goals in three of five games and at least three in six of the past 10 games. The team is 5-5-0 in those 10.
More bad news: Defenseman Paul Martin couldn’t finish Thursday’s game because of a lower-body injury. He had 18:28 of ice time before the injury and was minus-3. Martin has four goals and 15 points this season, both team bests for defensemen. He averages more than 25 minutes per game and is questionable as of this writing, for Saturday.
Your new Eastern Conference leader is Montreal, easily the biggest surprise in the NHL this season. The Habs are tied with Boston for the best goal differential in the East at plus-15. Montreal has just one regulation loss in its past 10 games and enters off a 5-2 win Wednesday at equally-surprising Toronto. That was some payback for a 6-0 home loss to Toronto on Feb. 9. Max Pacioretty had two goals Wednesday as Montreal scored its second-most goals of the season. The Canadiens outshot Toronto, 40-23.
Thursday was the debut of forward Michael Ryder in Montreal’s lineup after he was acquired from Dallas on Tuesday for winger Erik Cole. Ryder spent his first four seasons with the Habs. He had a career-high 35 goals with the Stars last season and has six goals and eight assists this year. He played a little over 14 minutes Thursday with no points and no shots. Cole also had a career-high 35 goals last year for Montreal but just six points so far in 2013.
This really was a move made for salary cap purposes. Ryder will be an unrestricted free agent this summer, while Cole has two more years after this one at a cap hit of $4.5 million. Next year, many teams are going to have to scramble to get under the lowered cap number of $64.3 million due to the new CBA. Montreal shouldn’t have any trouble now in dumping Cole’s number and previously buying out Scott Gomez and his nearly $7.4 million cap hit. I think it’s a terrific trade overall for Montreal as I’d rather have Ryder at this point regardless.
The Canadiens also could be without one of their top defensemen in this one. Raphael Diaz suffered a concussion in Monday’s overtime loss to Ottawa and sat out Wednesday’s game. Diaz is a big part of the power play and has one goal and 12 assists (team-high 13 points for a defenseman) with a plus-5 rating this season. He averages more than 20 minutes of ice time. Tomas Kaberle, who used to be a great player, hadn’t played since Feb. 2 but replaced Diaz in the lineup Thursday and was plus-1 in nearly 15 minutes of ice time. In addition, Montreal forward Rene Bourque (five goals, five assists) is expected to miss a fourth straight game Saturday with his own concussion.
Penguins at Canadiens NHL Betting Odds and Key Trends
At BookMaker, Montreal has been opened at -125 with Pittsburgh +105 and the total at 5.5. The Pens are 12-9 “over/under” (6-6 on road) and are 1-1 this season as a dog. The Canadiens are 9-11 O/U (5-7 at home) and have lost two of their past three as a favorite.
The Penguins are 5-1 in their past six against Northeast Division teams. Pittsburgh is 4-1 in its past five when its opponent allows two goals or fewer in their previous game. Montreal is 4-1 in its past five against Atlantic Division teams. The Habs are 7-2 in their past nine overall. The over is 10-1 in the Pens’ past last 11 games when their opponent scores five goals or more in their previous game. The under is 9-2-1 in the Canadiens’ past 12 when their opponent scores two goals or fewer in their previous game. The over is 3-1-1 in the past five in Montreal.
Penguins at Canadiens Picks and Betting Predictions
The last two times the Pens were staring at a three-game skid, they beat a Canadian team to avoid it: Ottawa. Crosby scored in both of those games, and I believe he is going to be juiced for his lone game in Montreal. Plus, you won’t get Pittsburgh as a dog very often. Take the Pens and the under.
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